3 things I learned from biking across South America
I had arrived in Rio de Janeiro, the city where my biking trip would start, with € 20 (!) in my pocket. I wasn’t doing well financially, but working as a tour guide was supposed to change my situation for the better.
A few months later, after a difficult but important experience living in one of Brazil’s biggest favelas, it was time to the most challenging trip of my life. I set out to travel from Rio de Janeiro to Bogota, on a crappy bike I had bought just a few days earlier.
Here’s 3 things I learned during this amazing adventure:
1. People are good
So many friends warned me about my trip. Some told me not to go. Others told me not to spend my nights outside, whatever happened. All around us, we are constantly being fed with news of terrible events where people just seem to want to hurt each other.
So we start to believe that the world is a dangerous place, and we should be watching our backs constantly.
I set out to prove to myself that most people are helpful, honest and kind. From day one, this turned out to be true. I think I needed to experience the kindness of strangers, because I was starting to believe that we should be fearing each other instead of connecting with others.
During this trip it amazed me how I was treated by the people I got to meet. Almost everywhere I went people wanted to help me out. They gave me a place to sleep, some money, water & food and a couple of times a ride, at the moments when biking was impossible.
2. Being alone is hard, but necessary
I’m one of those people that loves to be alone. It allows me to relax, but also to focus and think about all the things that are going on in my life. Being alone allows me to evaluate my decisions so I can keep getting better at whatever it is I’m trying to achieve.
Also, there is a difference between being alone and feeling alone. For me, the difference is in the choice. Usually being alone for me is a choice, cause I choose to spend time by myself although there are friends and family around with whom I can spend that same time. When you feel alone, it’s either because there’s no one around who understands what you are going through, or because there are no loved ones around to turn to.
For the first time in my life, I felt alone. Not just because I was alone, for a longer period of time, but mainly because I hit a few low points during my journey. The realization that I had to go through one of the toughest times in my life all by myself was very difficult. But soon I found out that this was something that would make me even stronger.
I decided to use the way I felt as an advantage. So instead of talking to people around me about what I was going through, I had many ‘conversations’ with myself. I listened, and analyzed what I was feeling and why. I thought about the things I had done, and the decisions I had made that got me where I was.
“When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” – Dalai Lama
Being alone made me understand I needed to change, and why.
3. You need to challenge yourself
Author Benjamin Hardy speaks a lot about ‘getting into peak state’. Peak state is crucial for top performance. There are different things you can do to get into peak state. One of them is changing your environment and challenging yourself. While in peak state you can expect the best of you to come out, you will reach new highs. For me, peak state allowed me to gain new insights.
My biking adventure definitely was the biggest challenge of my life. It was never about the physical aspect, but always about my mental state. A lot of things are inside your head. The mind is a powerful thing. It can make us see and believe things that don’t really exist.
A few weeks before the start of my adventure, even before I had enough money to buy a bike, I posted about my trip on my Facebook page. I clearly stated that my goal was to reach Colombia. Once you openly speak up about your goals, there is no way back. This helps you to reach your ‘point of no return’. From this moment I was sure I would be starting my adventure, no matter what. The doubts were still there, but with all the people who were already commenting on my trip there was no way that I would back down now.
With the goal I had set out to reach, the circumstances of my trip and being all alone while going through everything, I think my challenge could not have been any bigger. And that’s what made my adventure so valuable. The lessons I learned while being on the road will stick with me for the rest of my life.